Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rich in Years.

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life

What a beautiful book this is. 

So many books written about the later years of life veer to one extreme or the other: they either focus on hurrying up and dying so you can get to heaven, or they suggest that meaning comes from doing all the fun and exciting things you can as an older person. One urges you to hurry on to the best life in Heaven, the other insists that life on earth is too good to let go of. 

In truth, life on earth *is* beautiful even in its brokenness, and the Maker of this wondrous world has created a holy Paradise in heaven that we should also be eager to enter. Johann Christoph's hold's both realities in his hands and extends them to us in Rich in Years. 

I witnessed a conversation a while ago., between a 58 year old man and a 70+ year old man. They were talking about age and what it does to you. The conversation included a rhyming ditty about how age strips you of everything worth having, in essence. It ended with one of them voicing the idea that getting old is a necessary evil at best, followed by the phrase "What's the alternative?" 

When you hear a conversation between people talking about growing older, the prevailing mindset appears to be that only certain privileged people could possibly enjoy their later years. Most people whom I've talked to view old age as a time of failing health, lack of joy in living, and paralyzing pointlessness as living with your "independence" becomes existing under other's care. 
The very title, Rich in Years, defies our modern sentiment. The general American consensus on old age is that it is a very poor thing, not a rich one. 

And I grieve when I see or hear that idea expressed, because old age is like every other part of life: It can be rich, it can be poor. The difference is found in how you deal with what comes to you, what kind of a community you have around you, and your walk with the Lord. 

Johann Christoph Arnold has written a jewel of a book in Rich In Years. I gave it to my mother, and she read it three times in ten days, underlining and making notes and reading aloud to me and my father. She wants him to read it next, and I hope he does. Our culture will not thrive if we hold onto a bad attitude towards aging. When we are neglecting and dehumanizing our old people to the point where they feel useless and would rather die, something is terribly wrong. When younger people fear the idea of getting old and hate the thought of being inform and beholden to their children or to strangers, we've done something wrong. 

We need a new vision, one cast by someone with extensive experience with older people whom they've loved and cared for. They need to give us a vision that is realistic: the we make more older people a part of our lives, the more we'll encounter death and disease as their earthly bodies wear out. But that comes at the end of a life well lived, and it isn't an unnatural or shameful thing at all. 
Johann Christoph's book begins to spread that vision. We need a holistic view of life, where old age and it's challenges and rewards are seen as no less important and meaningful than any other period of life. 

We need to build up communities where the elderly are on one step of their journey and the youth are on another and they both help each other in a different way. The elderly have the experience and knowledge to be the guides, the youth have the vigor and strength to assist the feeble. 
Even those who are almost entirely dependent on the care of others are valuable: they are allowing us to minister to them, as they ministered when they were well and able. 

Filled with personal stories, and honesty, and hope, Rich in Years makes it clear that there can be goodness in growing old. 

Thank you to Plough Publishing and Handlebar Media for my review copy!

Johann Christoph Arnold

A writer whose down-to-earth perspective has helped his books sell more than a million copies in twenty languages, Johann Christoph Arnold offers sound advice on a wide variety of contemporary issues. An outspoken social critic, he has addressed gatherings from Sydney to London and visited hotspots around the globe, including Ireland, Iraq, Chiapas, and Israel/Palestine. His work has also taken him into hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers, and even to death row.

Born in 1940 to war resisters driven out of Nazi Germany, Johann Christoph Arnold’s parents fled Europe when he was a baby and settled in Paraguay. It was a childhood of dire poverty, but his upbringing gave him a special sensitivity for the downtrodden. At fourteen, he moved to New York, where he has lived ever since. In the 1960s, his interest in the Civil Rights Movement led him to the American South, where he met Martin Luther King Jr. and marched with him. The ensuing friendship was to impact him for life.

A father of eight with more than three dozen grandchildren, Johann Christoph Arnold and his wife, Verena, have always taken a lively interest in children and young people, and in family life. In 1999, in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, they formed Breaking the Cycle, a program of nonviolent conflict resolution that has since been brought into hundreds of schools in the United States and England. Its essential message reflects Gandhi’s famed advice to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Johann Christoph Arnold devotes time almost daily to corresponding with his many readers.

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